There are few bright spots from the Cubs’ 66-96 record this season; some may point to the growing talent in the minor leagues that continues to make its way closer to Chicago, but at the Friendly Confines, the truth is it was just a bad season. From that bad season, however, the Cubs will enjoy the fourth overall pick in next June’s Major League Baseball Draft.
With a crop of young, talented hitters in the system including Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant, there’s a fairly good chance the Cubs will look to pitching needs in next year’s draft. The real question, however, is whether or not any of the class’ top quality arms will be available for Chicago.
Scout.com ranks a trio of pitchers as the top three prospects in the 2014 June Draft, which could leave Chicago just shy of what they desperately need; a front-end power arm that can become a leader on the mound for a team whose supposed ace, Jeff Samardzija, went 8-13 with a 4.34 earned run average in 2013. According to Kiley McDaniel of ScoutingBaseball.com, the arms at the top of this year’s class are something special.
This class is better than last year’s class and I’d take either of the top two players of last year’s top player Mark Appel, who was picked first overall in the June draft. NC State pitcher Carlos Rodon and East Carolina pitcher Jeff Hoffman are potential No. 1 starters and are already among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
The 2014 Draft Top 50 report released by Baseball America Wednesday morning concurred with McDaniel’s assessment of the draft class, saying that from top-to-bottom, pitching is something that will be widely sought – and available – in the early rounds of next year’s draft. They listed the same top three as McDaniel, as well, with Rodon going first, Hoffman second and Tyler Kolek, a high school right-hander out of Texas with a history of hitting 99 mph on the gun, third.
Of the teams with the top four picks in next year’s draft – the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs – the Cubs have the fewest number of top pitching prospects, according to MLB.com prospect rankings. The Cubs have seven pitching prospects among their organizational top 20, followed by the White Sox with eight, Houston with nine and Miami with eleven.
Houston took the aforementioned Mark Appel with the number one overall pick last year, and as mentioned, the organization will enjoy their third-straight top pick in the draft, as the team continues to rebuild under general manager Jeff Luhnow. However, unlike the past two drafts, there is a clear-cut frontrunner in the draft class, which means that Rodon will be in an enviable negotiating position in terms of his signing bonus, which will likely be the largest signing bonus of the new bonus-pool era of the draft. With that in mind, I still think Rodon will go to Houston with the top pick.
Miami has a crop of pitching talent in both the minors and at the big league level with the likes of ace Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi. For this reason, I believe Miami will look to add an impact bat in the draft, choosing between either shortstop Trea Turner of North Carolina State, who according to Baseball America, “offers bat speed, athleticism and top-of-the-scale speed when healthy” or third baseman Jacob Gatewood of Clovis HS in California. Baseball America says that Gatewood has “a plus arm and arguably the best power potential in the class.”
The White Sox put together their worst season since 1970, when the club stumbled to a 56-106 record, by going 63-99 in 2013, narrowly missing the century-loss mark. Despite their lack of pitching in the minors, the organization seems to need just about everything at this point. Seven of the organization’s top ten prospects are hitters, according to MLB.com, yet none of those players came close to hitting .300 this year – a sign that an impact bat is desperately needed as the franchise moves forward. Expect the South Siders to take whichever of the players are left by Miami, either Gatewood or Turner. A dark horse candidate for the White Sox could be catcher and outfielder Alex Jackson of Rancho Bernardo HS in San Diego, as Chicago continues to look for a replacement to the departed A.J. Pierzynski, who left for Texas after the 2012 season.
This all brings us to the Cubs. I believe the team will take right-hander Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina. The right-hander went 6-7 with a 3.20 earned run average this season, but has “stuff that isn’t far off from Rodon’s,” according to Baseball America’s report. That being said, he also hasn’t performed to a comparable level, as noted by the report, as he has tallied just 6.8 K/9 in two seasons. In an ideal world, Rodon slips to four, but I would be absolutely floored if that happens, based solely on the fact that he is clearly the best talent available in this year’s draft.
Hoffman will make a nice addition to the organization, joining with the likes of C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino, as Chicago continues the top-to-bottom rebuilding effort. That being said, Theo has always surprised on draft day, so keep your eyes peeled next summer as the date approaches for the next crop of talent to become the next generation of big league ballplayers.